A visit to a prospective preschool will help you determine whether that school is a good fit for your child and family.
Preschools fill an important role to prepare children for the group-learning environment that they’ll experience in kindergarten. So, if you’ve done your research in picking a preschool — considering its accreditation, recommendations, and details (late pick-ups, tuition costs, student/teacher ratio, etc) — now it’s time to see it for yourself.
When you call to request a preschool application, ask about visits. There might be specific tour dates to see the school. Reserve a spot or arrange an independent visit. Try to visit at least two or three schools for the sake of comparison.
On your visit, you should do your best not to be overly charmed by the miniature scale of classroom furniture and darling art projects. Look for indicators of a preschool with organized routines, a logical classroom lay-out, and teachers and children who all appear to be happy to be there. If teachers seem really busy or frazzled, something’s off. If there are children crying or fighting over toys, then something isn’t working in the class. See if the school’s physical space is set up well for little children, with sinks and bathrooms in a convenient place, not, for example, down a public hallway. Is the outdoor space stimulating with a lot of choices?
Most tours happen about a half-hour after all the preschoolers arrive. This is done so that you can see the school in mid-activity mode. It is also done to avoid the hectic drop-off scene. Try to show up early to observe school drop-off.
A good preschool has a strong sense of community. Do preschoolers and their parents say hello to each other as they file into school? Is the school staff present to assist with morning arrivals? Who helps when a child is having a hard time saying goodbye? In the classroom, are there activities for the children to engage in right away or does there seem to be a waiting period while everyone rolls in?
Good teachers and staff are the backbone of every preschool. Are the teachers good listeners? When in conversation with kids, do they bend down and paraphrase? Consider the school administrators who fill in for teachers during lunches and breaks. Ask about job longevity among the staff. Many schools have teachers who have worked there for decades, which is a fantastic sign. Have a look at classroom newsletters, and ask whether teachers provide individualized student reports to parents.
Every parent who has ever put a reluctant child into a car seat knows the value of smooth transitions. How do the teachers move from one activity to another? When the class lines up for outside play, how better it is to hear a song or a clapping pattern — something fun — not a teacher’s loud commands? Are children also taught to help put their toys away? A good preschool will teach its students how to transition well.
How do teachers tell kids “no"? Do they say no? Some preschools teach children to redirect problem behavior, and it works well if teachers are good at it. Also, consider whether the kids say no to one another. A lot of schools have a rule that if someone asks to play, the answer is yes. An accepting, inclusive environment is more welcoming than cliques of children who only play with certain others.
Most schools have a circle time. Check to see if all of the kids participate and that one or two loud kids do not dominate group time. The teacher should guide this activity with questions and acknowledge contributions from every child.
While not a priority for all parents, some parents have been alarmed to learn that their child was regularly given juice at snack time. Have a look at the menu or snack guidelines. Notice whether children take turns as helpers, such as passing out napkins. Encouragement to say thank you is a terrific bonus.
Ask about the art projects on display. Does it look like the shapes were cut out and the children merely assembled the pieces? Creative art projects are not only fun to do but can also teach a little something extra about animals or famous artists.
It’s important to write a note to the school to thank them for the visit, particularly if admissions are competitive. Remind them of your visit, select a few salient details of praise, and say that you look forward to seeing them in the future.
Lastly, make sure the school is a good fit for your child. Some children might be extremely sensitive or so into trucks and cars that they will tolerate few activities without wheels. Can you see your child happy in this environment? A well-organized preschool curriculum has a place for all sorts of kids. If your child needs a unique environment, look for it.
Did you know you can also use Noodle to search for the right preschool near you?
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